MANY THINGS AND THE MAIN THING
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 25, 2018
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
— Luke 10:38-42, ESV
When I began my work as a pastor, I moved into an office where the previous pastor had left a poster on the plaster. It had no pictures, only words which read: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Since his tenure had not left the church in a healthy condition, I was curious as to his interpretation of the “main thing.” So I asked the long-time church secretary and she said, “I don’t know. I don’t think he ever told us.”
Since a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pew, I hope to speak clearly today about the main thing. It is something that should be central in your life and in the life of every church. You can see it on display in a certain person in this passage, as well as the new church that was forming around her. Her sister was busy with many things, but she had definitely learned as a young Christian that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
Apart from the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles, two people appear in this text. They are both women, good and godly women, whom Jesus befriended and included in His ministry. They did many things for the Lord Jesus Christ and His kingdom.
Luke tells us that Martha and Mary were sisters who lived together in the same home. Matthew and Mark identify the owner of their house, Simon the Leper, who could have been their father or another close family member. John tells us the two sisters had one brother, Lazarus, famous of course for doing nothing much but getting sick and dying, then coming back to life on the fourth day (Jesus would do him one better). But Luke alone tells this story that focuses on just the sisters and the kinds of lives they lived.
Martha lived a good and godly life. She was busy with many things. She was a servant, which is a very good thing in Christian circles to be called. The Apostle Paul liked to refer to himself as a servant. When we are feeling especially holy and humble, we like to call ourselves servants, too.
Martha was busy, not idle, which is another thing commended in Christianity. She was not a busy body, but busy busting her buns for the benefit of other people. She was willing to tax herself for the comfort of her family, friends, and neighbors. Here we find her working hard to make sure Jesus and the other people in the house had a clean place to sit and some good food to eat. You and I would like going to Martha’s house, We’d look forward to it. We’d leave happy and full and thankful to God for good Christians and good cooks like her.
Jesus was happy with Martha, too. He doesn’t comply with her request, but He doesn’t really scold her, either. It is obvious from other stories, too, that Jesus values and loves Martha very, very much. He loved her service, her willingness to work, and appreciated the many things she brings to the table.
Many things indeed are needed in the Christian life and the life of Christ’s church. Too many Christians are idle in our age and too many church members are inactive. We need to get busy knocking on doors, working in the nursery, bringing food for potluck, keeping the building and grounds attractive, rehearsing church music, preparing lessons and sermons. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, so we need to get busy in the work of the Lord.
To this, Martha would say, “Amen!” And we should “amen” her back. She is the picture of a good Christian, a willing servant, blessed and busily blessing others with many things. But, of the many things Martha brought to the table, not one of them was the main thing. That belonged, at least on this day, to “Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.”
The Main Thing
Mary sat while Martha served. It riled her sister something awful, but Mary ignored Martha’s orders and complaints. That in itself is not the main thing, however. If it were, if not doing work and ignoring orders were virtues, we’d have a nation full of champions, wouldn’t we?
I’m sure there were times when Mary cooked and Mary cleaned and Mary did many things. But before Mary did anything she placed a priority on the main thing. It, among other things, makes Mary a superlative. If the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, then what is the main thing?
Mary shows us that the main thing in life is listening to the word of God. I’m sure she liked cooking and consuming food. She probably liked good music and good wine. She collected expensive perfume which is another beautiful story in and of itself. She obviously cared about her family and friends. But early in her Christian life Mary had discovered the main thing that Jesus called “necessary,” and “the good portion.”
“The Lord’s teaching” is literally the word of God, since the Lord Jesus Christ was, is, and always will be God. The red letters in some editions of the Bible should be gold, for that’s what the words of Christ are, absolute gold. But it is not just the red letters, but the black letters, too. Jesus’ teaching was perfectly congruent and in total fulfillment of the Old Testament. His Apostles took His teaching and, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote Gospels and Epistles and a Revelation that are purely part and parcel of the word of God.
If Mary were among us today she would purchase the best Study Bible on the market and consume it every day, along with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It would be her main thing, her spiritual food. If Mary were among us today she would seek out and join a church like ours, one without pomp and circumstance, a simple people of God devoted to and devouring the whole counsel of the word of God. Mary would serve as a constant reminder that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, and the main thing is the word of God.
The main person is God, of course, but to get to God you have to listen to the word of God. The word of God opens the window of the soul and pours in the fuel which is ignited by the Spirit to give you life and govern your life for the glory of God. The word of God is the fountain from which all other aspects of spiritual and eternal life flows. This is why the Lord referred to the listening to His word as the main thing.
Without hearing the word of God, we cannot even become truly Christian. How does a person come to Christ for salvation? By grace, of course, through faith, in God as God has revealed Himself. How has God revealed Himself? He has revealed Himself most perfectly in the person and work of Jesus Christ, which was predicated and pictured in the Old Testament, presented in the Gospels, and explained in the remainder of the New Testament.
The main thing (not the main person) we need for salvation is the Bible. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of [God]” (ref. Romans 10:17). The Bible is the main thing used by God the Spirit to convict us of sin and show us how to trust God the Son so that we can be right with God the Father. If we care about our souls and the souls of others, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
Without hearing the word of God, we cannot consider ourselves a true church. We live in a day where megachurches are thriving while the people in them are starving, they just don’t know it. They are fed a diet of pop music and pep talks, when what they desperately need is the plain preaching of the word of God. We live in a day where many churches are now focused on the social gospel, neglecting the saving gospel revealed when great confidence is placed in the plain preaching of the word of God. We are a mile wide and an inch deep, caring more about many things than the main thing.
I like many things. I like programs for every member of the family. I like social ministries which provide food, shelter, and clothing. I like music, and the more instruments the better. But when it comes to choosing a church, I’m on Mary’s side. I can hear her preceding and paraphrasing Patrick Henry: give me the word of God or give me death.
The latest survey I read indicates that when it comes to listening to the word of God, about ten percent do so on a daily basis, and only five percent make it the main thing when choosing a church. People prefer many things, many of which are not bad at all. But I want to be one of the ones who grab for the main thing, I want to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His word, every day in my Christian life and every Sunday in my church life.
Are you a Martha or a Mary? Neither one is bad, but one is best. Be concerned about many things, but build them upon the main thing. At least when you leave here today, you will know what the main thing is, it is hearing and heeding the word of God.
THE GOOD SAMARITAN
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 11, 2018
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
— Luke 10:25-37, ESV
Few sayings of Jesus are more familiar than these two commandments and this one parable. Not many are as misunderstood or misapplied, either. For the two commandments are really one, and the one story is really two.
The Great Commandments are One
Jesus has now slipped beyond the border of Galilee and wandered into Judea for the last time. His popularity has waned, the religious rulers have sharpened their knives, and the Roman government will soon acquiesce to these hypocrites’ hateful desire to have Jesus killed.
As He ventures near Bethany and onward to Jerusalem, a “lawyer” (a term the only Gentile author of Scripture sometimes prefers over “scribe”) approaches Jesus with a trick question. It is a good question on the surface, but the context reveals the insincerity of the religious leader who only wanted to trap Jesus and “justify himself.”
Make no mistake, the gospel is at stake. Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom of God, calling on all people to enter in by grace and mercy through repentance and faith in Him. The lawyers or scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, and other religious leaders of the day held on to the doctrine of salvation by works, through keeping of the Jewish law, and membership in the superior Jewish race. Jesus offered Himself as the promised Messiah, Son of David and Son of God. The religious establishment had branded Him a fraud and heretical leader of some new religion. Christ’s answer to their question was crucial.
A Pharisee named Nicodemus had approached Jesus at the beginning of His ministry with a similar question. Jesus offered a new concept of the new birth, which mystified the Pharisee and the rest of the establishment. This lawyer wanted a similar answer here, something new and mysterious, so that he could turn it and twist it and use it to tear Jesus down. Instead of something new, Jesus gave them something old, great commandments found seven times in the Old Testament (ref. Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12,11:13, 13:3, 30:6; Joshua 22:5) which would echo nine times in the New Testament (ref. Matthew 19:19, 22:37, 22:39; Mark 12:30, 12:31-33; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians5:14; James 2:8).
Jesus combined the two great commandments to give one answer on how to live forever: love. Love God, and love God in such a way that love overflows to other people, all people, all the time. Love God, absolutely and completely, and in doing so let God love other people through you. Love was God’s motivation in sending His one-of-a-kind Son to the cross, and love is our motivation for taking up our cross and following Him.
But where does such love come from? It is not gained from religious works. It is given by grace through faith. And faith is imputed by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. In this new birth, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (ref. Romans 5:5) and “faith work[s] through love” (ref. Galatians 5:6).
Salvation is a new birth of love gained through the gospel of Jesus Christ. A lost person has ultimate love for self. They can love others, if and when it makes them feel good to do so; and, they can love God, if such superficial love of God makes them look or feel better. But when a person becomes a Christian, they fall in love with God first and foremost, especially as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. They love the people of God and strongly desire to worship with them, break bread with them, pray and study God’s word with them. They love people who are not saved and long for them to come to Christ. Indeed, the key to eternal life is the new birth of love, first for the Lord, then for other people, and then in a healthy and spiritual way for one’s own self. “Do this” one thing, Jesus said, not these things, “and you will live.” The one thing is love,
Jesus takes these two great commandments and points out the one power behind the gospel: love. The religious rats did not get it, of course, so they scurried away for the day to come back later with a new trap for Jesus. Before they got away, however, Jesus tells a parable about a single person packed with two important truths.
The Good Samaritan is Two
The Good Samaritan is one great character Jesus uses to teach two truths: one about the exclusive remedy of the gospel, and the other about the importance of evangelism. This is theology combined with practical theology, taught by the great Theos Himself, using the powerful tool of the parable.
On one hand, the Good Samaritan is God. You and I are in the story, too, and so is the religious establishment of Jesus’ day, or anyone in any day who preaches salvation by works of the law. We are the “man … going down” (Jerusalem is above seal level, Jericho is below). Satan and sin have robbed us of our lofty estate, stripped us of our spirit, and left us half dead and totally depraved, unable to save ourselves or cooperate in any way for our salvation. Religious laws and rituals, represented by a “Priest” and a “Levite,” cannot help. Only love, mercy, and costly grace can rescue us. The Good Samaritan, God in Christ, gives the saving remedy for our salvation and provides the means for our spiritual lives, all the way into eternity (remember the original question).
On the other hand, the Good Samaritan is you and me, or any witness for Christ. We cannot turn a blind eye to hurting people. We cannot allow the other eye to be closed by harmful prejudices. Yes, this is a racially tinged parable, given the animosity between Jews and non-Jews, especially half-Jews like Samaritans. Anti-semites have unduly harmed and killed Jewish people for centuries, but the Jews have their own history of racism. The character Jonah would rather have died than to see a foreign people saved. Mobs tried to kill Jesus in Nazareth, and Paul in Rome, for just mentioning an outreach to the Gentiles. Modern parallels abound in the American church from our inception as a nation through the civil rights movement. Racism robs any people and religion, especially Christians and Christianity, of its good and godly witness.
We must love God no matter what the cost and we must love people no matter what the color. We must see with colorblind eyes the need of lost people everywhere, and help by getting out the gospel. But how? By having “compassion,” a word meaning love in action, a word that describes God, and a word which should describe God’s people.
Many see this parable as promoting the so-called social gospel. Society is full of hurting, hungry, and helpless people who need the church to provide food, shelter, and clothing. To this I say, touché. This is why we have always worked on some level with food pantries, Habitat for Humanity, and clothes closets. But if you reach out with one hand with the social gospel, and withhold the other hand holding the saving gospel, the people you lift up will only fall into a deeper ditch.
The major purpose of all of the Lord’s parables is to make a graphic statement about the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. People are deceived by the world, the flesh, and the devil. People are dead in their trespasses and sins. People are made worse by religion without love, or love limited to one’s own religion and race. Only grace can help. Only faith can save. Only Christ can answer the question and give eternal life. Christians cannot turn away. We must reach out and invite our neighbors to Christ and Christ’s church. This is what the good Samaritan did. Now, “You go, and do likewise.”
Copyright © 2018 Lake Hamilton Baptist Church, All rights reserved.
Check out the weekly happenings at Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org